Small Press Co-Authoring Madness

Since we’re here, let me regale you with tales of old…

As many of the established readers of this site know, I’m still fairly new to the business. This coming November I’ll be celebrating 7 years since my first novel was published. Part of my highly exaggerated “charm” is that I have no clue as to the little nods and winks in science fiction that bigger names understand. I don’t get the geek humor a lot (I’m not of you, but adopted) and I don’t even understand why there are cliques in fandom now (outside of the obvious psychological need to exclude people when oneself was excluded from social functions many years ago, but that’s a different essay).

So believe me when I am surprised when people mock me when I say I’ve published the majority of my work with small press publishers. I don’t quite grasp their looks of horror when I share how many co-authors I’ve worked with over the years. I am, as they say, naive to the horror stories of small press and co-authors.

Don’t misunderstand, neither is all roses and cash all the time (God, I wish it were!). No, it takes a dedicated focus to succeed at either. To succeed at both takes a certain level of crazy that… uh… gets you invited to… er… write for the Mad Genius Club.

Son of a…

I first approached a big publisher back in 2005 with my completed novel “Corruptor”. It was a decent first novel that needed an editor’s touch (still does) but fit into the (at the time) needs of the growing YA/Teen subgenre. However, nobody would touch it and the book ended up being contracted with Twilight Times, a small press I had heard about through a friend. It was a lengthy book that didn’t fit into the “mold” at the time. You see, this was when urban fantasy was really taking off and people were saying that it would be the death of science fiction, so nobody was taking anything like what I had written except small houses. Unless I had werewolves falling in love with humans while battling vampires and vice versa, I did not have what they wanted.

While I have had troubles with one or two of the small houses I’ve worked with, all in all it has been a collection of very pleasant experiences. I don’t have the issue of being the sole person responsible for editing and publishing my books, as I could have had if I had gone indie. I’m still responsible for marketing myself, but the publisher usually has ideas that can help. They also design the cover art, something that I suck at, and often get truly commissioned art for the cover and nothing recycled (“Corruptor” and “Wraithkin” come to mind). The other added benefit of working with a small press publisher is that, unlike some of the bigger houses, you get paid far more often at rates that are comparable to that of going indie. It’s part of the reason I haven’t truly gone indie yet: I like writing, but I hate everything else that publishers can take care of for the writer.

As for working with co-authors… well, I can only say that I have had great success with finding them and working together with them. Everyone knows the insanity in a novel when Chris and I work together, and I have had great financial success with Eric. I worked with another co-author, though, who almost soured me on the prospect of writing with others back before I had “Corruptor” contracted. That was partly my fault, since I bought into the “hype” and ignored a lot of the lack of substance he brought to the partnership. Plus, he was a bigger name than I was, so it probably worked out for the best.

Why, you ask? Well, because working with a co-author is harder to make work than a typical marriage.

It is hard to write a book with someone. It takes more than setting your ego aside. It takes a full commitment to the relationship to make it work (oh wow, total marriage comparison). Both authors have to know the limitations of their collaborator, and be receptive to ideas that you might not initially think would work. You have to listen, and not simply wait for them to quit speaking so you can say a rebuttal piece. Active listening is key here, people.  For example…

When Chris and I wrote “Kraken Mare”, we pretty much rewrote the entire book (I’d completed about 35,0000 words before I called in for some help). Even though there was a lot of insanity (and by a lot, I mean immeasurable amounts here… crazy giggling while talking and plotting/writing) we realized that we worked well together. We would easily feed off one another, hound each other when needed, and come up with ideas that the other would never have thought of, and pop culture references that one of us might have missed. It was fun, enjoyable, and we’re planning on more projects in the future once our free time reappears.

All in all, you have to be more than a little crazy to do either. To do both, well, you have to be certifiable Mad Genius. 🙂

And now your promotional news. Jason has a book out right now that you should buy. For a measly $3.99 you too can pick up your copy of the latest, Wraithkin, from Theogony Books. If you have KU then it’s free! Pick up a copy and leave a review.


18 thoughts on “Small Press Co-Authoring Madness

  1. I’ve found that group projects can either be amazing or infuriating. Rarely have I had one that was anywhere in between. I’ve done everything from having partners who turn in their part of the project literally minutes before we were supposed to present it. But I’ve also had a writing group that worked so well together that we wanted to continue working together after the project ended. Working with partners is all about finding the right person or people.

    1. I can do collaborations with my husband pretty well, but I’m nothing next to a friend we used to have. This was based on an actual conversation I had once when returning from the store.

      I miss her. She lives on the opposite coast now with a guy she met on the internet. They’re happily married and have beautiful kids and she lives 3000 miles too far away, darnit.

      1. The nice thing about characters, when you yell at them to behave and they stalk off in a huff, they can’t get far.

          1. Worse are the long, offended silences when they won’t say anything, and the book stalls. Then I have to write ten pages of moo-moo romance to make them stop pouting.

            Can you be cold-shouldered by your own brain? Yes! At some length, too.

  2. This. I’ve collaborated precisely once, and the results were actually very good, and sold for what was then (35 years ago) a lot of money. By agreement I was the junior collaborator, and she was the Boss. This worked. In fact, I’m thinking that collaborators should always agree before word one who’s the boss and who isn’t. If you can’t come to that agreement, don’t attempt to collaborate.

    That said, the emotional intimacy of the project was startling, and here and there a little unsettling. It wasn’t writing together so much as writing together naked. I value the experience, and lord knows I got a good story out of it. I’m not sure, however, that I would do it again.

    1. Sort of like pilot and copilot. Before you take off, you need to determine 1) who is the Pilot in Command and 2) who does which tasks, and 3) how you are going to communicate. Trust me, it is a lot easier to be professional if you say ‘Captain, you are ten degrees left of course’ as compared to “Bob, you’re drifting again and the ground is getting really close.”

  3. From my somewhat limited observation of small press it seems that most are owned and operated by a single person with perhaps a bit of office help. Most services like cover art, editing, and layout are generally contracted out. And if they offer a print option it’s invariably POD through one of the standard services. So they can be fairly efficient, but suffer all the risks associated with dependence on a single individual. They also as I understand it pay little if any advance. And are notorious for late reporting of sales metrics and royalty payments.
    So, in order to avoid the hassle of doing all the ancillary work yourself or finding and paying contractors to do those tasks for you, you surrender control, potentially lose visibility into sales metrics, and put yourself at the mercy of slow and possibly creative bookkeeping. And as has been recently reported on, you run the risk of the house precipitously closing down, offering you a fraction of what you are owed, and potentially tying up your intellectual property rights to your work for years.

    1. The small press I am published with is actually the result of an author having a small press close out from under her and deciding that she could do a better job. The clauses in the contract about intellectual property rights are crystal clear and very favorable to the author—and revert to the author if the press goes under.

      One suspects she ran that one by an IP lawyer just to make sure it said what it was supposed to. And that she didn’t want anyone burned the way she was.

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